Labeling on Genetically Modified Organisms
It has been 20 years since GMOs were introduced in the U.S. Throughout these years many things have changed and GMOs have become part of people’s daily lives. Even the way GMO crops are created has changed over time. Biotech scientists have created new ways to grow plants faster and tastier. To do this, scientists have created herbicides that make these crops resistant from chemicals. Biotech scientists have also made new ways to insert DNA into plants and animals, which can introduce new traits that scientist may selectively breed for. All these changes in GMO production have also affected agriculture, livings organisms, and spread pollution. Biodiversity is adversely affected by harmful pollution in the environment. After decades of research on GMO crops, countries across the world have either banned or started labeling GMO food, because many people believe GMOs are the cause of many diseases, such as cancer. The American government should start labeling GMO products so Americans can lead a good and healthy lifestyle.
For one thing, GMOs were made to benefit consumers. As the world’s population is vastly increasing, it can possibly lead to world hunger. In his article, “Recommendations from a Meeting on Health Implications of GMOs,” George Amofah states, “The UN projects that world population will increase by 25% to 7.5 billion by 2020.” The introduction of GMOs enables countries to prevent food shortages with mass food production. GMOs were developed with a certain amount of nutrition added to them to benefit people’s health and also to prevent disease. In “Benefits You Get from GMO’s,” Janet Renee states, “Biotech companies are developing crops that have higher vitamins and minerals, as well as enhanced antioxidant content which can be used to help prevent chronic diseases.” Another big factor that is known to benefit people is vaccines. In “Health Risks and Environmental Issues,” the author states, “GMOs can improve health in developing countries by delivering drugs and vaccines by inserting them into fruits and vegetables like bananas and potato crops.” Though GMOs have some benefits, putting them on the market with no research is not only putting consumers’ health on the line but also affecting animals and the environment.
Though many argue about the health implications of GMOs, sources have proven that GMOs are actually putting consumers’ health at risk. The movie Seeds of Death talks about research on sheep where the sheep were allowed to graze on BT cotton plants after harvest. Afterward, one in four sheep died within five to seven days, with an estimate of 10,000 dead sheep. Many cases like this have occurred around the world, causing more and more risks – not just for humans and animals, but also the environment. In “The Dangers of GMOs,” the author talks about how the rate of allergies has skyrocketed from when they were first discovered. “There is a cross-reactivity between soy allergies and peanut allergies, and so it may not have been a coincidence that peanut allergies doubled in the United States between 1997 and 2002, five years after GMOs were introduced” (Smith). Though it is not yet proven, many believe GMOs are the cause of cancer. In Seeds of Death, a researcher did research on rats where they fed them genetically modified corn for 90 days, which resulted in the rats getting tumors, their immune systems breaking down, and many other health risks, including pre-cancerous tumors. GMOs are not only affecting humans and animals, but also agriculture, as more chemicals are introduced to the environment.
The production of GMOs has had a great effect on agriculture, as companies are using more and more chemicals on the crops. To remove toxins from food, biotech scientists have introduced pesticidal chemicals. Big companies like Monsanto have created their own way of removing toxins by creating “roundup ready” crops, which can withstand herbicides. According to the article “Health Risks and Environmental Issues: GMO’s The Debate Heats Up,” “Farmers planting RPs soys are using two to five times more herbicide than farmers who use integrated weed control method” (Williams). Which means more and more toxic chemicals are being introduced to the soil, air, and even water, which is increasing pollution in the environment. As more and more Roundup Ready crops are planted, the use of pesticides has been increasing, which leads to superweeds. Roundup Ready crops use chemicals like the Glyphosate, which creates superweeds. Farmers spray a lot of pesticides on crops, the weeds die and the crops start to thrive. In “Soil Biodiversity: Functions, Threats, and Tools for Policy Makers,” the author states:
Genetic modifications are used to improve quality and productivity. The existing molecular techniques involve the insertion and integration of a short segment of DNA from another organism into the genome of the plant, to add single characteristics to the plants breeding line and variety. (Nuria)
GMO crops are the source of pollution in the soil organisms because they can have an indirect impact on soil biodiversity.
The use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has been on the rise since its invention in 1996. It is estimated that upwards of 75% of foods in the United States’ food supply contain genetically modified ingredients (Gruere and Rao 3). Although many studies have been done, there has been no consensus from the scientific community on the long term impact of GMOs. This has been a cause for concern for many Americans due to possible impacts on human health. However, any GMOs on the market are tested and controlled by the EPA and FDA, so they are generally recognized as safe. Due to the regulations and testing by the EPA and FDA, GMOs that are currently on the market are considered safe for consumption and have a positive impact on economy and food security.
Safety and Impact
To understand how the use of GMOs is being implemented into current farming techniques, it is important to know how they differ from traditional agriculture. Traditionally, farmers will cultivate their land using seeds from previous harvests. In doing so, they will often choose the stronger, bigger, or more appealing plants in an attempt to pass on those specific traits to future generations. An ideal situation would involve all crops in the future to contain these genes, to create a superior crop from the original generation. This sort of agriculture, commonly known as selective breeding, has been used for many years. Genetic engineering on the other hand, simply tries to expedite this process by inserting the gene directly instead of waiting.
Genetic engineering is the process which changes part of the DNA in an organism to make it display a certain desirable trait. This is what makes genetically modified food different than ‘normal’ food. There are two different kinds of genetic modification: Genetic engineering and selective breeding. Genetic engineering works by splicing the gene or trait that you would like from an organism already containing that trait. That DNA of that organism is copied many times so that the selected gene can be sliced from the resulting genomes (Higley). Once the selected gene has been cut from the DNA, a similar section of DNA is cut from the destination organism and the copied DNA is inserted. Finally, the organism with the newly desired traits is bred with other organisms with that trait to ensure the offspring will show the specified trait (Higley). The last step, also known as selective breeding, has been done for centuries. Selective breeding is breeding individuals from a population who both contain a certain set of traits that is seen to be desirable. If you were to look in nature versus your supermarket, some products would look very different. Take tomatoes for example. Wild tomatoes are much smaller, wider color variety and many different species. Tomatoes bought in the store are much bigger, mostly the same shade of red, and are often a selected species of tomato. These make it to the super market because they are more profitable. Another example that may hit close to home for many, are many breeds of dogs. There are many dogs that have been bred to have certain traits, such as a golden coat or a superior hunting ability. I became very interested in genetic engineering in general after taking an Advanced Placement Biology course and realizing my dog is technically genetically modified. Background in the process is necessary to understanding the possible risks and controversies involved with their use in food.
The use of genetically modified organisms in the food supply has dramatically increase in the last fifteen to twenty years. Over that period of time, many new GM foods have been added to supermarkets around the globe. GM foods include but are not limited to corn, soybeans, cotton and tomatoes. These foods often are bigger, have a higher yield and in turn, are more profitable for companies. The genes needed to produce these ‘superior’ crops also must be regulated to ensure safety to the general public. There have been many controversies over the labeling of GMOs in the food supply. There are many people on both sides of this issue. However, there is no consensus from the scientific community yet. Due to the lack of consensus, there have been numerous court cases dismissed with regards to enforced labeling on GM foods. Those against labeling often cite court cases such as Alliance for Bio-Integrity v. Shalala. The 1992 court case challenged the FDA’s “generally recognized as safe” statement (Acosta). GRAS is a term used in the food industry that references a food additive that is said to be safe by experts (Wikipedia). The court ruled that “FDA’s interpretation of the FFDCA’s labeling requirement was reasonable” and “genetic modification does not ‘materially’ alter foods” (Acosta). Those for mandatory labeling however cite that most of Europe has regulations regarding labeling food products. Although labels are required, there is little effect on the economics of GM food in Europe (Gruère and Rao 5). Therefore, if there is no economic difference between a labeled GM food and unlabeled product, enforcing legislation would be a waste. To enforce something that still will not deter consumers and to spend millions if not billions would be irresponsible.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are two of the foremost regulators of GM foods within the United States. The EPA regulates the possible toxins from the genetically modified organisms as well as pesticides used (FAS). This is necessary to protect the general population from adverse effects from the engineering process. In order for a new product to make it onto the market place, it must pass strict testing by the EPA. The FDA controls GMOs that are to be eaten by humans and/or animals. These foods must be equivalent to non-GM food” in nutritional value, structure etc.” (US Regulation 3). Furthermore, if the food is considered to be substantially different than a non-GM food, the FDA will require further testing. Any foods that show adverse effects will not be allowed on the market. Due to these precautions, genetically modified food on the market are safe to eat according to the FDA and EPA.
GMOs have been rigorously studied to ensure their safety. In a summary of hundreds of reports compiled by Angelika Hilbeck, she concludes that “on the basis of their studies, that a number of varieties of GM products (mainly maize and soybeans) are as safe and nutritious as the respective conventional non-GM plant” (Hilbeck 2). However, those against GM foods claim that the studies saying GMOs are safe are exaggerated and not representative of the science. Hilbeck responds to that claim citing a report by the Royal Society of Canada. This report disavows the false distortions of scientific evidence that is:
‘scientifically unjustifiable’ to presume that GM foods are safe without rigorous scientific testing and that the ‘default prediction’ for every GM food should be that the introduction of a new gene will cause ‘unanticipated changes’ in the expression of other genes, the pattern of proteins produced, and/or metabolic activities’ (Hilbeck 3).
Hilbeck explains that the scientific evidence that has been produced should not be refuted. More simply, she believes it is necessary to consider all the facts and not necessarily what your personal beliefs tell you what to think. To err on the side of caution is never a bad thing. It is also reasonable and rational to be skeptical of some studies if something appears to be out of the ordinary. However, refuting years of scientific data simply based on hearsay and poor fact checking is not being skeptical, it is simply irresponsible. To ensure the safety of all GM food and those who consume them, continued research on the long term effects are not only necessary, but essential.
Most people are completely oblivious to the fact that the so called “fresh” fruits and vegetables they eat are actually contaminated with GMOs. This brings up a good question: what is a GMO? It is a genetically modified organism whose genetic makeup has been changed through engineering techniques. This means that corporate crops are injected with genetic material to produce a desired characteristic. So if you ever wonder why your strawberries are abnormally large it is probably because the genes have been mutated, inserted, or deleted. Sounds fresh right? That is not the only problem; many of the health consequences are unknown which leads me to believe that GMOs are hazardous to our environment.
Although the health effects of the consumption of these foods are unknown, there has been a two year study in France that used rats as a model for humans. Gilles-Eric Séralini, professor of molecular biology at the University of Caen, talks about this in his 2013 online article titled “Republication of the Séralini Study: Science Speaks for Itself.” He states, “The study found severe liver and kidney damage and hormonal disturbances in rats fed the GM maize…” (gmoseralini.org). Since one year of a rat’s life is equal to thirty years of a human’s life we do not yet know if this liver and kidney damage pertains to us as well. GMOs first hit the grocery stores in the year of 1994. So here we are, a little over twenty years later, and there are constant new tumors, cancers, and other diseases coming up.
Disease does not seem to be the only problem, but the control mechanism or intention behind this horrifying idea. Jeremy Seifert, a concerned father and director, makes an excellent argument in his 2013 documentary titled “GMO OMG.” He states, “Is there anything sacred left? Who is watching over this new power to alter creation?” By this he means since when did it become okay for us to take on the role of our Creator and patent or control Nature? These are important questions to ask on this subject because most of these companies are not concerned with anything but the money. Monsanto, a multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation, is in control of most of the GMO crops. When Jeremy went to the facility to ask them in person if their products were safe he was told to leave. This brings up some suspicion because if they were so proud of their products they would want people to know more about them. Instead, they want to avoid concerned consumers because they probably know something that we do not.
If GMOs were not that bad the companies would at least label products that contain them. However, this would lead to a new problem. Thomas A. Hemphill, associate professor of public policy, and Syagnik Banerjee, associate professor of marketing, make a worthy claim in their 2014 article titled “Mandatory Food Labeling for GMOs.” They state, “…mandatory GMO food labeling emphasizes “choice,” by which consumers should have the right to decide what food ingredients they should be ingesting…” (8). If people had a choice to purchase a natural product, or a GMO product they would probably prefer what sounds healthier; then this means the companies start losing money. They go on to say that previous results with mandatory food labeling have led to grocery store retailers eliminating GMO products completely because consumers did not want to purchase them (9). So what are these corporate companies trying to hide? It is more than obvious that they are not concerned with our health.
People are no longer allowed to save seeds, a practice that has been around for generations, it is now illegal and regulated through a contract that decides who and when the seeds can be harvested. Zoe Robaey, a student from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, makes a strong thesis statement in her article titled “Looking for Moral Responsibility in Ownership: A Way to Deal with Hazards of GMOs.” She claims, “The owner of a genetically modified seed has moral responsibility for the hazards the seed might create” (48). In other words, the person who holds the genetically modified seed takes on the accountability of the dangers it may bring. This is a good argument because Monsanto is the owner of the seeds therefore, they should be responsible for the threats it may pose in the near future. Regardless, our society should act more responsible in making sure our food systems are secure.
There are more than sixty countries around the globe including all of the European Union that have banned or put strict restrictions on GMO production and sale. Helena von Troil, a biotech expert from Europe, writes about this in her article titled “The GMO Conflict.” She states, “The difference in acceptance of the GM crops, food products and labelling requirements between the US and Europe has led to a serious trade dispute” (13). In other words, since Europe depends on the United States’ export of soy and corn it has become a problem because they now only want GMO free items. There is a huge difference in attitudes towards GMOs that involves the U.S. and other countries. These different views can best be explained by the culture in which people come from, the regulation on GMOs, and public policy towards them (13). Europeans probably care about their food more because there has not always been an abundance like the U.S has. However, if we are abundant we should be thankful and respect all that the Earth has given us rather than altering its creation.
Although GMOs alter the DNA structure of plants, they do help speed up the process of crops so that people are not left hungry. In the online article titled “Feeding the World’s Hungry” experts say, “One in eight people among the world’s growing population of seven billion do not have enough to eat…crops produced through GM technology can help us feed the hungry and malnourished in developing nations around the world” (factsaboutgmos.org). This may be true however, problems with this counter argument include that if Monsanto and experts were concerned about feeding the hungry why did they not answer Jeremy’s question about if the products were safe? Are they really worried about feeding these people or just making money off of them? If they care so much about the malnourished in other countries they can at least label GMOs here in the U.S. so consumers have a choice. The real problem here is not the hungry people of the world, but the patenting of Nature. Is it even moral to patent a living thing?
There has to be a way to stop this problem of feeding the world pesticides and toxins. According to the documentary “GMO OMG,” Jeremy states some important facts. For example, “The United States is the world leader in genetically engineered crop production, with 165 million acres, or nearly half of global production…approximately 85% of all processed foods contain GMOs.” This means that organic and non-GE crops can easily become contaminated with herbicides and pesticides through insects and pollination. Another problem with this is that eventually the weeds and pests will become resistant which will require them to use stronger toxins.
So we the people can take action to put this to a stop! If we choose to eat organic or foods that are labeled as non-GMO the companies will eventually stop using them. Furthermore, this will lead to the farmers not growing them. Although organics are a little more pricey it definitely is a good investment into your health and your future. If it is true that we are what we eat, we should be cautious about what we put into our bodies so that we do not become something bad. There are many state labeling initiatives taking place and they can only succeed through our help!
After endless research and documentaries, the conclusion that GMOs are toxic to our bodies and our environment is obvious. People should be given the right to choose whether or not they want to consume these altered products. It is no secret that there are constantly new diseases coming up that no one knows where they are coming from. Although they may not all be from GMOs they definitely could play a role; almost everything causes cancer. Man should not “own” Nature to the point that we can no longer save seeds at the end of the year. It seems immoral and whoever is behind this big secret will eventually get their karma. The U.S. should be able to see a problem when other countries are not wanting to trade GM material. The only way to stop this mess is to get involved and to become more aware about what we put into our bodies. We just have to take the time to do it! If Creation wanted nature to produce food